Monday, August 25, 2014

Guest Post: The Lost Art of Listening by Evan Roider

I am delighted to introduce our next guest in the 
Collaborative Journey series: Evan Roider, pianist. 

Often times, in passing conversation, people will mention to me how they wish they had continued their piano lessons as children.  My first instinct is to ask, “well, why didn’t you”?  However, to avoid the typical “I didn’t like practicing” response, I simply tell them that I hear that a lot.

However often this occurs, I always end up pondering the subject.  Of course, one could be drawn to the question of what makes a student want to quit taking piano lessons, but I am drawn to the question of what makes a student want to continue piano lessons, or any other sort of lesson.      

I look back on my own childhood and think about my interests.  I was exposed to a lot of music in a lot of different genres – classical, musical theatre, folk, and pop.  I loved (love) hearing music and exploring it.  The piano was the tool that I used to do this.  Through the piano, I could explore myriad genres of music, while developing a sense of style and form in the process.   

As I think about that time of my life, I realize that I was an outlier.  By the time I was born, society had already changed drastically, and was in the process of continuing this change to a work-driven and pop culture-oriented culture. Today, arts organizations struggle with a dying audience, particularly in non-pop music.  The conversation about how to bring young people into the concert hall seems never-ending.  So what is it that makes the surviving concertgoers and music aficionados different?  If we look at the older generations, the style in which society brought them up is drastically different than the society that bred me.  Instead of being plugged in to the console barraged by sights and sounds in the service of a video game, children sat around the television or radio with their parents, listening to real music making.  They were exposed to programs like Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts”, and even to popular television programs like the “Ed Sullivan Show”, which consistently showcased live music across a variety of genres, from classical to the Beatles.  Before TV and radio, people had to rely on themselves, family, friends, and live groups of professional musicians for entertainment.  A fun evening at home meant sitting around the piano making music with those closest to you.  

So, what does all of this have to do with playing the piano? A lot. 

Previous generations listened.  They experienced an aural tradition that just doesn’t exist today.  They were exposed to the finest performers, composers and, dare I say, rock stars, and learned to understand and engage with music for themselves.  Music was their entertainment, not the filler that went with the entertainment.  

So, here is my plea to music teachers.  Along with molding your students into active and adept practitioners, mold them into active listeners.  Use your guidance and influence to develop students’ musical interests, knowledge, and intelligence.  Encourage them to make observations on music, even if that music accompanies their video games.  In reality, one of the most important aspects of musicianship is listening.  For a beginner, learning to experience music is just as important as learning the C Major scale.  Piano playing, even at the most basic levels, is about more than finding middle C.  Allow students the chance to make observations, to relate, and to find themselves in music. The world will thank you and those adults who stuck with their piano lessons will too.

About the Author, Evan Roider: Pianist Evan Roider maintains an active schedule as a soloist and collaborative artist, performing across the United States and abroad, most recently in China,  England, Ireland, and Italy. His performances span a wide array of music, from the classical repertoire to contemporary music, as well as the American Songbook.

Evan has also participated in SongFest at the Colburn School, the Indiana University Summer Music Festival, the Amalfi Coast Music Festival, and the New Orleans International Piano Competition Institute. He has performed in masterclasses for artists such as Aldo Ciccolini, Phillipe Bianconi, Nelita True, Martin Katz, Graham Johnson, John Perry, Margo Garrett, Jake Heggie, and William Bolcom, among others.

Evan recently competed his undergraduate studies at the Hartt School in Connecticut where he studied with Anne Koscielny and David Westfall.  He currently studies with Gregory Sioles.  

For more info, visit

Monday, August 18, 2014

Guest Post: How to Have a Great Teaching Year in 5 Easy Steps by Tracy Selle

I am pleased to introduce the next guest in our new Collaborative Journey series: Tracy Selle, author of 101 Piano Practice Tips. 

I love the start of a new school year!  It’s fun to have students back to a regular schedule.  New families call to sign up for lessons. It’s a time for a fresh start--for students and teachers as well.

Of course, I’m one of those people who tend to set too many goals and end up having unrealistic expectations. Only recently have I learned a better way to plan for the year---simplify!

Here are 5 easy ideas to set you up for a great teaching year!

1.  Set boundaries. I’ve known for several years that I needed to make changes in my studio policies, but I kept putting those decisions off.  Finally, this year, I set boundaries and it’s such a weight off my shoulders.  I made new guidelines, informed my parents, and now I just need to stick with those decisions. By the way, I didn’t lose one student!

Here are some questions to consider when trying to simplify your teaching life:  Are make-up lessons okay with you?  Is there a limit?  Do you need to raise your rates?  Would going to a flat, monthly fee make payment easier? Perhaps you need to start taking credit cards?

Setting boundaries will help simplify your life because you make the decision once--then you just have to follow though. For example, I’ve learned that instead of automatically offering a makeup slot, I can say:  "I'll let you know if there are any cancellations."

2.  Have a written studio policy.  This is a no-brainer for many, but I’m amazed at how many teachers just "wing it" through the year. This ends up putting a lot of stress on the teacher and the families as well.  Set expectations early and you’ll eliminate a lot of headaches.

If you've never had a written policy, just keep it short and sweet by addressing the issues that matter the most to you. You might start by setting rules for make-up lessons and payment deadlines.

3. Use an invoice system.  I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t start using a payment system until last year and I regret not doing it sooner.  This has saved me so much time!  

I send out invoices the week before payment is due and it’s rare that parents pay late.  It’s also been great because I can now offer payment by credit card.  That’s really helped my “forgetful” parents!

I use Music Teacher’s Helper, but there are several online options to choose from (My Music Staff is another option, with a smaller price point than MTH).  In my experience, the time I’ve saved is worth every penny. Try the free monthly trial and decide for yourself!

4. Do one thing to be more organized.  There are lots of ways to get more organized, but they can be time-consuming and stressful!  Instead of getting overwhelmed, try working on one organization project each year.  

For example, Last year, I created student folders. These don’t go home with students, instead I keep them at my house to keep me organized.  Inside I include  information that I need to remember for the next lesson.  Sometimes I print out digital music and pop it in the student's folder. If a child’s birthday is coming up, I’ll put a little card in their folder to give them the next week.  It’s a simple idea, but it’s really helped to keep me more organized.

This year, my project is to create a teacher binder thanks to Melody. (Here's the link to some of her organizational materials.) The pages are so cute and functional. I love that you can print the specific pages you want to create a custom binder that meets your needs.

Need a few project ideas? You could revamp your studio policies, discover new iPad games, plan some group lessons, work on practice incentives, organize your digital music. Just pick something and do it!

5. Finally, Make sleep a priority.  Aim for 6-8 hours of sleep each night.  I know it seems impossible when you have a lot to accomplish, but you’ll be much more productive when you’re well-rested.  You’ll also be happier, more creative, and more patient.  That adds up to a pretty awesome teacher!  

I hope these simple steps help you have a great teaching year!

About the author, Tracy Selle, Author of 101 Practice Tips: Tracy started her music career at the age of 13 when she was hired as pianist of her church. She studied music in college, but ended up following her love of science to become a TV meteorologist. And yes, she continued to serve as a church pianist as well.

After Tracy got married and became a mom, she decided to leave television and get back to her music roots. She's been teaching piano for more than 10 years and loves every minute!

In her spare time, Tracy loves to read, crochet, and hike with her family. She's also an advocate for Type 1 Diabetes. Her son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in March 2010.

Read a review of Tracy's book 101 Piano Practice Tips here

Purchase 101 Piano Practice Tips or Amazon

Monday, August 11, 2014

Guest Post: Honesty by Nick Ambrosino

I am pleased to introduce the first guest in our brand new Collaborative Journey series: Nick Ambrosino, speaker, coach, and author of Coffee With Ray. The following is an excerpt from his book. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a new lesson with a nine-year old girl.  We were learning a new piece, and as she got to a challenging section, she exclaimed, “This is too hard!”  Now, initially my response, as a compassionate adult educator, would have been one of the cheerleader, “Oh you can do it!  It’s not too hard.”  

But, I stopped and decided to respond to her words instead of simply reacting to her exclamation.

Instead, I said, “You’re right, this is hard.  Sometimes learning is challenging.  Now would you like to work on it together? Because, I am sure, that with your effort and my teaching, we could make it easier after some practice.”  She looked at me with a surprised look in her eyes and responded, “Okay!”

After some reflection, it occurred to me, that many students are manipulated into thinking that learning is always supposed to be fun and easy.  Yet, in reality, that is not always the case.  By definition, when someone is learning, they are expanding their horizon, or as I prefer to call it, "stretching their comfort zone."  Anytime stretching is required, there is a certain amount of discomfort. And, it is okay. 

When students are told the truth, it is okay with them also.  Young people, just like adults, do not like to be manipulated and certainly, as adults, we may have become very good at being very “persuasive.”  Yet, what I believe all people really want is honesty. 

It’s easy to assist students in overcoming the hurdles and fears to learning.  Just be honest with them.  They want honesty, compassion and someone who is willing to problem-solve with them. Honesty, compassion and problem solving are three tools that are essential for a successful facilitator to have in his or her toolbox.

About the author, Nick Ambrosino, Author/Speaker/Coach: After a long time of being "gently nudged," by fellow educators, students, parents, business people and family members, I decided to succumb to their, "You have to put this stuff in a book." anthem. When I began to put pen to paper, I thought I would create a textbook. Ten pages in, I was bored out of my skull writing it and I had the sneaking suspicion that readers would be bored reading it! "What did I like to read?" "How did I like to teach?" Stories, I liked stories that had lessons. I liked stories because they made the lessons easier to remember. I liked stories because they had people in them, not just facts...

Read more about Nick and the story of writing Coffee With Ray here 

Read a review of Nick's book Coffee With Ray here

Follow Nick Ambrosino on Facebook here

Purchase Coffee With or Amazon!

Friday, August 08, 2014

A Collaborative Journey

Dear friends, I am so excited to announce the next chapter of The Plucky Pianista Blog... Collaboration! 

Amazing guest posts will be shared by fabulous musicians who are involved in a variety of fields, from teachers, to pianists, classroom educators, collaborative pianists, pedagogy specialists, authors, students, performers, and more! 

I am delighted that so many guests will be featured on The Plucky Pianista Blog, and I can't wait to share the first post with you. I'll give you a hint: the first post, scheduled for Monday, is by an author that I have mentioned here recently. See you soon! 

Puzzle Graphic by Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Designs

Friday, July 25, 2014

Review of Nick Ambrosino's "Coffee With Ray"

Review of “Coffee With Ray”
by Nick Ambrosino, reviewed by Melody Payne
“Coffee With Ray” is the story of a piano teacher who has lost his satisfaction in teaching and longs for something more. The piano teacher, Matt, is becoming dragged down by the day-to-day issues that most piano teachers face at some point in their careers: students who don’t practice, who cancel without notice, who have lost their motivation, I’m sure you can relate. During an exceptionally bad day, and through a series of seemingly normal circumstances, Matt met Ray. Throughout their conversations, Ray’s gentle guidance, and Matt’s willingness to learn, Matt slowly overcame his doubts about continuing to teach, gained a new perspective, outlook, and list of priorities, and began to transform into the teacher he needed to become. 
Though the main character in this book is a piano teacher, I think teachers of many different subjects can benefit from the information and ideas Ray leads Matt to discover. I am reminded of my mentor, and the many ways he led me to discover new ways of viewing not only my students, but myself as a teacher. 
Once I began reading this book, I couldn't put it down! Every word jumped off the page with the energy and enthusiasm that made me want to start implementing some of Ray's lessons immediately. I definitely recommend taking a couple of hours from your day to read this book. You positively won't regret it! 
Summer is the perfect time to read this book. If you are doubting your abilities, cringing when certain students enter your studio, need some inspiration and a breath of fresh air, or want to see your students in a different light, this book would be a wonderful addition to your tablet. The book is not only relevant, it is timely, uplifting, and inspiring. 

This delightful and inspiring book can be purchased here. 

Learn more about Coffee With Ray here

About the author, Nick Ambrosino: 

After a long time of being "gently nudged,"  by fellow educators, students, parents, business people and family members, I decided to succumb to their, "You have to put this stuff in a book." anthem.  When I began  to put pen to paper, I thought I would create a textbook.  Ten pages in, I was bored of out my skull writing it and I had the sneaking suspicion that readers would be bored reading it!  "What did I like to read?"  "How did I like to teach?"  Stories, I liked stories that had lessons.  I liked stories because they made the lessons easier to remember.  I liked stories because they had people in them, not just facts.

Read more about Nick and the story of writing Coffee With Ray here

Nick will be writing as a guest on my blog soon, so stay tuned for more of his relevant and inspiring words! 

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